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The Overjustification Effect . . . the act of doing something for mere pleasure is compromised by rewards.  When first reading Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards, I came across the concept.  We see it in everyday American life.  The evidence is that in organizations, there are a lot of people that either expect something extra for doing extra or won’t do something unless there is a reward involved.

As Americans, we have grown up with this concept.  Most of my friends and many that I have spoken with were given rewards for good grades.  Money, pizza, McDonalds and more were our incentives.  This later morphed into “what will you give me” when asked for any favor from friends or family.  The satisfaction of just doing to help has been erased.  The entitlement mentality we see in America today is certainly connected to this thinking.

It was also Kohn that talked about rewards and their effect on people.  Yes, they drive behavior . . . the wrong behavior.  It was also Kohn that pointed out that B.F. Skinner did many experiments on animals, but wrote his papers on people.

However, extrinsic motivators are part of everday American organizations and so many organizations violate the 95/5 Rule (where the individual is at the mercy of the system they work in). Rewarding the individual, doesn’t make sense when their performance is dictated by the system.  Unless, of course, they have found a better method.  Even then, organizations have to be careful that the individual doesn’t hoard the method for continued reward.

As Americans, we need to find our way back to the days where we did things because they are the right things to do.  We have become overstimulated by rewards.  Overjustification has been woven into our fabric and needs to be purged.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his column at Quality Digest and his articles for Reach him on Twitter LinkedIn

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